Does it make you a little crazy to hear nutrient dense foods like yogurt demonized for being “too high in sugar”? While yogurt brands with tiny cups of cookie bits, granola or mini M&Ms attached to the top are clearly higher in sugar, there’s a difference between foods containing naturally occurring sugars and added sugar. This next article will focus on added sugars on the new nutrition facts label.
Let’s start with where sugar comes from. Natural sugars include lactose and fructose. Lactose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and galactose that’s found in dairy products. Fructose is a monosaccharide found in fruit and honey. Both types of sugar may raise blood sugar, but foods containing these types of sugar also contain other nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, protein and B vitamins in dairy products and potassium, vitamin C, beta-carotene and fiber in fruit. Cheese, which is naturally low in lactose, contains minimal natural sugar, while ice cream and sweetened yogurt will contain both natural and added sugar.
The proliferation of fad diets has created a paranoia around several foods including dairy products and fruit. According to a Boston Medical Center study, 45 million Americans are dieting annually and 50% of them are trying fad diets. 1 Diets including Paleo and Whole 30 forbid dairy products while the Keto and Atkins diet advise minimal dietary carbs, including fruit. Eliminating any major food group can result in nutrient deficiencies long term. In addition, diets that either too high (>70%) or too low in carbohydrate (<40%) have been linked with increased mortality. 2
Why the focus on added sugar? Added sugars include sucrose, sugar (brown, powdered, white), maltose, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and molasses that are added to foods after they’re prepared. When fructose or honey are added as a sweetener, they are also considered added sugar. Added sugars are frequently found in low nutrient dense foods including regular soft drinks and sports drinks, cake, candy, cookies, pie and other pastries as well as granola bars and frozen desserts. While they provide 4 calories per gram like other carbohydrates, added sugars also raise blood sugar more quickly and have been linked with chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. 3 Excess calories from foods high in sugar also crowd out nutrient-dense food.
The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines advise 10% or less of calories come from added sugar (which does not include fruit or dairy products). This is equivalent to roughly 12 tsp. of sugar per or 200 calories in a 2000 calorie diet. In food terms, this means one, 12 oz. regular soda or one full sized candy bar per day. 4 According to the USDA, most Americans consume about 57 pounds of added sugar annually. 5
While most people recognize high sugar foods like soda and candy, there is hidden sugar in several foods including ketchup, pasta sauce, canned soup, gelatin, graham crackers, breakfast cereal and bars, fruit snacks and other convenience items. Yogurt may have added sugar if there is “fruit” on the bottom (read fruit jam), so including added sugars on a label will provide consumers a way to differentiate between lactose (natural sugar) and sucrose or another added sweetener.
To help your clients understand natural VS added sugar, teach them to read the ingredients list on a food label and look for the added sugars above. Suggest they eat foods in their whole form. Choose whole fruit over fruit juice or fruit snacks. Choose plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit added in versus sweetened yogurt with “fruit” on the bottom. Try flavored seltzer water in place of regular soft drinks or sports drinks. Limit sugary treats. A treat is not a treat if it’s eaten every day.
- Sara B Seidelmann, Brian Claggett, Susan Cheng, Mir Henglin, Amil Shah, Lyn M Steffen, Aaron R Folsom, Eric B Rimm, Walter C Willett, Scott D Solomon. Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health, 2018
- James M. Rippeand Theodore J. AngelopoulosRelationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding. Nutrients. 2016 Nov; 8(11): 697.
Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/